Detective work finds two Lost Diggers
Nick Bertram with a picture of his great grandfather Robert Edward Charles, right, and comrade Corporal James Douglas McDowall. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

Historical detective work stretching across Australia has un- covered the identity of two Diggers sitting side-by-side in a photograph taken in a French town during World War I.

The work has shone new light on the photographs known as the Lost Diggers of Vignacourt.

The Diggers had visited Vignacourt, north-west of Paris, where Frenchman Louis Thuillier and wife Antoinette took photos of soldiers for them to send home as souvenirs as they passed through on the way to or from the front.

The images were among almost 4000 glass-plate negatives that showed British, French, Australian, US and Indian soldiers, Chinese labour corps and French civilians. The plates were stored in the Thuilliers' attic until they were discovered by Channel 7's Sunday Night program in 2011.

More than 800 of the negatives were bought by WA businessman Kerry Stokes to donate to the Australian War Memorial.

Central to the historical sleuthing was Nick Bertram, of Woodlands. He said his mother Sally, who lives in Horsham, Victoria, had looked online at the collection and recognised her grand- father Sgt Robert Charles.

Photos of Charles in the family collection and an entry in his war diary placing him in Vignacourt in November 1916 enabled the AWM to verify it was him.

Mr Bertram's mother found another image in the family's collection of her grandfather with members of his 29th Battalion.

Mr Bertram said he realised he had seen that image of the 29th in a book about the battalion, and found the same image in the AWM collection, which included the men's names. He sent a link to the AWM image to his mother and Alison McCallum, of Brisbane, who is the Australian representative of the Vignacourt association, which is promoting the Lost Diggers links.

Ms McCallum noticed the man standing next to Charles in the photo of the battalion was the same man seated next to him in the Thuillier image, although the order of names listed in the AWM image left uncertainty.

Mr Bertram traced a descendant of another soldier in the AWM photo, whose family had the same image in their collection, with handwritten notes of the men's names on the back, providing the final proof the Digger next to Charles in the AWM photo and the Thuillier image was James Douglas McDowall.

AWM curator of photographs Lauren Hewitt said she was satisfied the men had been identified and their names were officially added to the images in the Vignacourt collection.

Mr Bertram also tracked down a member of McDowall's family, granddaughter Vicki Edwards, of Noosa, Queensland.

She said it had been fantastic to learn her grandfather was in the Vignacourt collection and the find had shed new light on part of the family history.

Mrs Hewitt said 97 men pictured in the Thuillier collection had now been identified.

The West Australian

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